Making the white call

The white card innovation trialled in the Varsity Cup final should be used for all major televised games.

At the Danie Craven Stadium on Monday night, both teams were allowed to challenge a decision from the referee – one in each half – by showing a “white card”.

UCT captain JJ Gagiano used his first challenge just before half-time when he complained that a team-mate had been played without the ball. That resulted in a penalty for the visitors that was kicked into touch.

Then, with Ikeys ahead 10-9 in the second half, the hosts appeared to score a try through scrumhalf Wilhelm Koch, after a kick had bounced into Maties hands. However, Gagiano – after speaking with his coaches on the touchline – challenged the decision, saying that Koch had gained possession illegally. The try was then disallowed by the TMO, who ruled that some Maties players were in an offside position when the ball was kicked.

Maties used their only white card late in the second half, when Ikeys forced a turnover at a ruck and were later awarded a scrum 5m out from the home side’s tryline. You got the feeling it was done more in desperation by Maties captain Bennie Booysen than anything else, and the TMO correctly rejected the appeal.

During the game, I sent rugby writer Gavin Rich an SMS saying that the white card system should be used for all major games. I said the All Blacks, for example, could have challenged that forward pass in the World Cup semi-final against France, and gone on to win the tournament. Rich replied saying that he was worried it took too long for the TMO to make a decision and slowed down the game, but later admitted that at least the correct calls had been made.

Yes, Maties went on to score a match-winning try in the last minute of the game, but up until then, the white card had played a major role in keeping Ikeys in front. Had Gagiano lifted the Varsity Cup, he would have had been very grateful for those challenges.

Sanzar, who are on a mission to revitalise the Super 14 and Tri-Nations, should implement the challenge system for next year’s competitions. However, I would make a couple of minor changes to it. In the Varsity Cup final, if a team used their white card and the decision went their way, they could not challenge another decision in that half. Why not have a system like in major tennis tournaments, where a player gets three challenges a set and doesn’t lose a challenge when he is proven to be correct?

I would also give rugby captains two challenges a half. If the TMO rules against them, they lose a white card. If he rules in their favour, they still have two challenges for that half.

Interestingly, SuperSport spoke to former Test referee Andre Watson during the Varsity Cup final, and he said he supported the white card system because everyone – including referees – want the correct decision to be made. However, he then added that while UCT had made two excellent challenges, he hoped there weren’t any more referee errors, because Ikeys would not be able to query them. I thought that was a bizarre statement, considering the teams were playing for a R250,000 first-place prize. Surely Watson and Co should be trying to make sure that NO poor decisions are made that could change the course of the game?

If rugby truly wants to be a professional sport, then it needs a professional challenge system that takes human error (of the referee) out the game.

By Simon Borchardt